Memory and Cognition Lab

Current Research


Learning & Memory Project


Visual Perception

     Practice makes perfect -- or so they say.  However, the way in which one practices can make a big difference.  An especially important issue concerns the way in which repeated study opportunities are distributed in time.  Should you study new information repeatedly over a short period of time (massed practice) or should you space or distribute your study sessions over a longer period of time?  Research in many labs, including ours, has found that spaced practice leads to better memory than the same amount of massed practice.  This is known as the spacing effect.
Another important issue concerns the role that testing plays in the learning process.  When you are trying to learn new information, is it a good idea to incorporate tests of your knowledge into your practice?  Research from many different labs indicates that the answer is, "Yes!"  In fact, a test is often more effective in improving subsequent memory than an equivalent amount of additional study on the same material. This testing advantage is called the testing effect.
     Both the spacing testing effects are well established with obvious practical applied value, but neither their limits  nor their explanations are well understood.  Research in our lab is making progress on understanding the nature of the underlying mechanisms and the circumstances under which they operate.
     Most recently, we have been studying metacognition related to spacing and testing effects.  That is, we have been investigating people's knowledge of and spontaneous use of spacing and testing as learning strategies. 


Frequent collaborator: Dr. Gerald Long

     Illusions can tell us a lot about visual perception.  The research in our lab focuses on a particular class of visual illusions known as reversible or ambiguous figures.  These figures can be perceived in two different ways.  For example the figure to the right can be seen as a young woman or an old woman.  If you keep staring at the picture, your perception will spontaneously flip flop back and forth from one interpretation to the other.  The fact that your conscious visual experience keeps changing even though the figure you are looking at does not change at all indicates that the reversals in our conscious experience are being produced by our visual system.  This makes reversible figures particularly useful for studying the processes that underlie visual awareness.
     Research in our lab has demonstrated that the alternations of conscious experience are influenced by both top-down processes (e.g., high-level cognitive processes associated with prior knowledge, expectation, and attention) and bottom-up processes (e.g., lower-level sensory processes that operate passively and automatically).  Our continuing research is attempting to clarify the nature of the top-down and bottom-up processes that contribute to perceptual reversals and to understand better how top-down and bottom-up processes are coordinated and integrated in producing alternations in our conscious perceptual experience.